Continuamos with my adventures in San Pedro de Atacama! To start reading my San Pedro de Atacama adventures from the beginning, click here.
Saturday started at 4:30 am when we rolled out of bed, pulled on thermals and winter gear over our bathing suits, grabbed our towels and cameras, and bundled into the van to sleep through a two hour ride to the first attraction of the day: El Tatio geyser field!
El Tatio is the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere, and the third largest in the world behind Yellowstone and one in Russia. The geysers form when deep groundwater is superheated by the magma core of the earth and rises rapidly to the surface, bursting through cracks in the crust at amazing temperatures.
I’m not typically impressed by sunrises, usually being too groggy to appreciate them. But the bitter cold (about 20F/-7C) and the otherworldly beauty of the place woke me up quickly. The 80+ geysers range from tiny feeble wisps of steam issuing from cracks in the mud to huge mounds that spew boiling water and great clouds of steam. All around is a gurgling, bubbling, hissing as the water seeks to release its pressure. The geysers are not static either but change as the water seeks out the path of least resistance through the miles of crust under our feet. The air had an odor of bad eggs from the sulfur in the water, but not bad enough to distract us from the beauty of the clouds rising against the pale dawn sky. I can’t help but imagine that this place was very spiritually important to the indigenous people, with the raw power of the earth literally seeping and spewing out of the ground. I also like to imagine what the first conquistadors must have thought when they came across it, did they think the great domed ceiling of Hell must be just below their boots?
We ate breakfast outside in the cold, our numb fingers gripping Styrofoam cups of hot tea and warm grilled cheese quesadillas, and then we drove off into the gathering sunlight to our next adventure: swimming in a geothermal hot spring!
Although the sun had risen, the heat had not yet reached the desert so we shivered violently as we peeled off our layers of winter gear. My feet quickly lost feeling as they slapped across the frigid stone to the edge of the pool. Once I slipped in, however, it was blessed relief. The water at one end was deep enough that my toes barely skimmed the muddy bottom, and it was blissfully warm after the freezing morning air.
As we got used to the water, we moved into the shallows in search of warmer water. We crouched down so that we were submerged up to our necks in the three feet deep water. The best way I can describe it is when you can’t find the happy medium of water temperature in the shower. We would be shivering in the water, and then from the muddy bottom scalding hot water would seep up, and if your hand or bum were there it actually hurt. In a bug huddle we would crowd around the source and try to mix the water with our hands to enjoy the perfect warm water, but then the hot water would stop and we would shiver some more.
Still, it was an amazing experience. We laughed at each other through the steam rising off the surface, and put mud from the bottom on our faces because someone said it was good for your skin but it might have just been fun and silly. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay all day, and one by one we hauled ourselves out of the water and, shivering violently, hurried into the changing stalls to peel off our wet suits and pull on sweaters and coats and shove hats onto our dripping hair.
We went back to Incahuasi for lunch, but our day was not yet over. This post is already too long, though, so I will share the rest of Sunday another time. Until then, here are my pictures! Enjoy!